Baltimore has been one of America's leading seaports since Colonial times. Founded in 1729, the city was named after the founder of the colony of Maryland, George Calvert, Lord Baltimore. By the time of the Revolutionary War, it earned fame as an important commercial and maritime center, and ships sailing from Baltimore plied their trade with northern Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Caribbean. In 1792 Baltimore was chartered as a major conduit of tobacco exportation, and in 1797 was chartered as a city. Baltimore saw its commercial activity surge with the burgeoning of its iron and copper industries, its proximity to the nation's capital, and the arrival of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, which developed links to the Midwest. However, the deep, divisive passions of the Civil War stunted growth, and it was years before the city recovered.
A fire in 1904 destroyed almost every building in the downtown area, providing impetus for needed revitalization. The two world wars renewed demands for Baltimore's port facilities and fostered development of a solid heavy-industrial base. But following World War II, the city's infrastructure aged and decayed. Today Baltimore remains a large port and industrial city with one of the largest steel plants in the world. Much of the city has been rebuilt through urban renewal efforts, and its population seems to have stabilized after a loss of 20 percent in the 1960s.
Baltimore maintains active sister city relationships with Alexandria, Egypt, Ashkelon, Israel, Ely O'Carroll, Ireland, Gbarnga, Liberia, Genoa, Italy, Kawasaki, Japan, Luxor, Egypt, Odessa, Ukraine, Piraeus, Greece, Rotterdam, Netherlands, and Xiamen, China.